I had never told you before, but whenever you would be with me in public and you would laugh, your laughter would not completely register because I would not know what I would do with the amount of happiness I would feel to know YOU would have laughed. I start feeling very dishonest because I would always want to see and make you laugh, but when you actually would, I would have created some kind of wall between you and me. But, I would still keep on trying to make you laugh because it is sort of reflexive, and there is nothing else I would anyway be able to put my mind to.
A few Premises
Let us start with a few premises (applicable to economies of ‘civilized’ societies):
1. We need goods and services.
2. We get goods and stuff in return of money we pay.
3. (Usually) we get money in return of something we produce (goods and services) that others ‘demand’.
4. Either we must produce those goods and services, for which demand already exists, or…
5. We must create demand for what we are capable of producing.
The Perfect Economy
In a perfectly running economy:
1. Sufficient resources would exist to produce a sum total of goods and services needed/wanted by all.
2. Sufficient number of people to produce the same goods and services should be available, and
3. Number of people in the labor force (those seeking money in return of goods and services they are capable of producing) must be exactly the same as that required to produce the goods and services required by the same population.
The Imperfect, Collapsing Economy
Let us see how, if any of the above conditions is not fulfilled, the economy would start collapsing.
1. Insufficient resources to produce sum total of goods and services needed/wanted by all
This situation is the easiest to understand. If there were to be insufficient energy sources, land (for industries and food production), water, minerals, etc., it is not difficult to understand how a certain fraction of the population would remain dissatisfied. Depending on what resource would be lacking, the people constituting that fraction would be unhappy, or fall ill, or even die. This kind of insufficiency has further downstream harmful effects, some of which may not even be quantifiable. E.g., there would be increasing collapse of the ethical framework of the society, by which I mean that the idea that – one would gain some good or service only in exchange of some good or service they produce – would be breached (e.g., stealing, extortion, etc.); productivity of the population would go down; new set of previously unrequired drains on resources would be created (hospitals, drugs, medical services, firearms, CCTVs – as an extreme example, etc.). With passing time and each passing generation, the per capita deficit between demand and supply of goods and services will widen for the worse, and that would lead to collapse. Most definitely, Indian economy is faced with shortfall of many vital resources – most prominently, land, energy and water.
Possible solution: To reduce the population. The total amount of resources would remain nearly the same, but the demand would fall, so there would be greater probability of everyone getting what they need/want.
2. Insufficient number of people to produce the goods and services required by the entire population
India definitely does not face this problem. It may seem that in some sectors (e.g., health care, education, law and order, etc.) there are insufficient people, but that would not be an accurate assessment. There are insufficient people to provide the above services either because sufficient number of people could not be trained to provide them or the market could not lure sufficient number of people to provide those services. However from what I have been able to make out, this problem (of insufficient people in the labor force) is perhaps actually present in certain European countries with negative or stagnant population growth, dropping birth rates, and effectively, the proportion of non-productive aging population on the rise.
3. More number of people in the labor force than required to produce goods/services needed by the population (disguised unemployment)
Or in other words, collapse can also occur if the existing labor force with the help of all the technology they have can produce more of goods/services than what would be needed by the population. Here I am trying to elaborate on the concept of ‘disguised’ unemployment. Of the three, this is the most difficult problem to explain. Let me try to give few examples:
1. Baker versus factory. Imagine a ‘factory’ constructed by an entrepreneur ‘E’, who hopes to make profits from selling bread in a town. Imagine 1,000 units of bread are required by the town. Before the factory was constructed, 20 bakers were needed to produce that much bread daily. However now, the factory needs only 5 people to produce that much bread. For purpose of simplicity, let us assume that 5 out of 20 bakers who were initially running bakeries to produce bread, shut their business and take up a job under E. So, what happens to the rest of 15 bakers? They are still capable of producing the bread, however, either people would stop buying bread from them, or each baker would be able to sell much lesser bread than before as at least part of the demand for bread would be satisfied by the factory. If we take this situation to the extreme, each of those 15 bakers needs the bread, knows how to make the bread and is willing to do so, but cannot make money to make or buy the bread because nobody needs his service! But imagine, if there would have been only 5 bakers in the town in the first place who would’ve been sufficiently fulfilling the requirements of bread for the town, this situation would not have arose. On the other hand, let us assume that somehow people would be hesitant to purchase bread made in the factory, then, those working with the bread factory or involved in its construction and maintenance are would not find employment. In either of the cases, when more bread can be made by the available number of people and facilities than is required by the population, there is competition, and individual earning from bread making drops.
2. Multiple mobile service providers. There are many mobile service providers in India. Let us assume for simplicity that there are 10 mobile service providers all over India. It would be safe to assume that if the combined existing infrastructure (mobile towers, wires, satellites, etc. [of course, I have very little understanding of what all goes into it]) of all these mobile companies were to function at their full capacity, lot more data transfer (calls, SMSes, etc.) could be handled without significantly compromising upon the quality of services provided. So, let us presume that of the 10 providers, infrastructure of only 3 would suffice to sustain the present demand on data transfer. [Let me set out a few premises here: (a) the total generated in the country from providing mobile services is dependent on amount of data transfer and would remain constant, (b) when the number of companies is more, at least few of the tasks are such that the work needed to be done increases despite there being no increase in ability to transfer data, and (c) if the revenue of a company increases, the income of individual employees would also increase in the same proportion.] This means, infrastructure provided by the other 7 companies is going waste. It further means that at least few of the services provided by employees are redundant and going waste? E.g., if there were to be only 3 companies instead of 7, there would have been fewer advertising campaigns, or fewer engineers would be required to maintain the fewer mobile towers; likewise, fewer people would have been required to look into the accounts. Now what is the impact of these two things (infrastructure getting wasted and redundancy [competition] among employees of competing companies)? If there would’ve been no redundant infrastructure, there would have been lesser pressure on the individual companies to recover their initial investment. This would’ve had two possible results: first, the companies would be able to have the same profit margin, and yet, the cost to the customers would be reduced, or alternatively, they would be able to have wider profit margin without increasing the cost to end-customer, and at least some of the increased profits would be transferred to the employees. In the second situation, each employee would get better pay than the present situation. The outcome of first situation would be that the individual customers would have more surplus money to buy other things and that would create business opportunities in some other areas, but this kind of analysis would complicate things a lot and I won’t deal further with it. Also, if smaller number of people would be required for attracting customers, maintaining accounts, maintenance of existing infrastructure, etc., with only 3 companies competing with each other as against 10, then all the individual employees would get greater salaries. Thus, the overall impact of having 10 mobile service providers instead of just 3 is that individual employees get lesser pay and/or the individual company owners make lesser profit than they otherwise would have. Another impact, more difficult to quantify, is that the customers have to spend more money on mobile services, which they could have otherwise spent on buying some other goods or services, which perhaps would’ve added to income of some other individuals or would’ve provided them employment.
3. Music in electronic medium. Think of times when it was not possible to ‘record’ music. Meaning, each time people would have the urge to listen to music, then, they would have to assemble at a place and pay the music artistes. So, the income of the artistes would be sort of directly proportional to the number of people wanting to listen to their music and number of times they would want to listen. But of course, now that we can record music and reproduce it at virtually no cost infinite number of times, what happens is that an ensemble of singers and musicians would record their tracks in a music studio, and they get to earn only once. Of course, the reader might point out that each time one buys ‘music’ the patron needs to pay, and part of that money (royalty) goes to the artistes. Piracy of music complicates the matters, but I would not deal with it here. However, let me elaborate upon the situation. Let us assume there are 1,000 people in a town, and all of them are willing to listen to 1 hour of music every day. Which means the demand for music per week is 7,000 man-hours. Let us also assume that each ensemble of singers can perform music for only one hour in a day, and if they were to perform live, they could cater to only 100 persons at a time. This means each group can supply only 700 man-hours of music per week. So, in the old days without the technology to amplify, record and reproduce music, at least 10 groups would have been required in that town to fulfill the music needs of the town. Let us assume that each person would be willing to pay Rs. 100 per hour of music heard. This would mean in an entire week, Rs. 70,000 would be paid for the town’s population, and thus each group would earn Rs. 1,000 per week. But now let us turn to the present situation. Let us assume that the ‘music demand’ and the amount of money people in that town are willing to pay has remained constant, and that means, even if there were to be just one music group in the town, they would have performed one hour of music once (lesser effort), and they would have been able to earn the entire Rs. 70,000 for that week. But now because there are ten groups instead of one, the income of each group would be just Rs. 7,000. So, though it would appear that the income has not decreased because of availability of technology, actually, simply because more number of musicians are available than are required, individual incomes are lower than what they could have been. Of course, what I have stated is too simplistic. Two complicating factors easily come to the mind. First is that though in the past, there were 10 groups in the town, they were not exactly competing with each other. They were the minimum required number of groups to fulfill the music demand. Whereas in the present situation, 9 groups are surplus, and they would compete with each other to provide music at a lower cost, so why would the customer continue to spend Rs. 100 per hour of music heard? And not to forget, once purchased, the original music group would never be required to perform the same track again. So, it is possible that in a week, less than Rs. 70,000 would be generated by the thousand-strong population, and the individual incomes could further drop. The second complication factor is of course that the expectations of the population would increase; they would seek greater variety, and hence artistes serving to greater number of tastes would be in demand. But there would be saturation in demand for different genres. If a population of 1,000 people would seek 10 genres of music, a population of 1 million would at the most seek 20 genres of music, and not 10,000 genres. Thus in summary, in industries like entertainment and news media, unlike the consumables, number of people (artistes) required to fulfill the demands of a population do not increase in the same proportion as the population.
What I have tried to illustrate through the above 3 examples is that as the means of production of goods and services get automated and humans would not be required in the replication, even though their demand would continue to rise in the same proportion (or even greater because of the customers becoming choosy), the number of humans required to meet the same demand would not rise significantly. However, various individuals would compete with each other to provide those good and services, and produce them at a rate lower than their maximum possible rate, and earn lesser than what they would otherwise be capable of earning. There is only so much that the demand for a particular good or service could be increased artificially (by advertising or propagating social fads) with rising standard of living. And even if the demand were to rise, it need not require involvement of too many humans to fulfill them (because of automation).
Possible solution: To reduce the population. With reduction in population, it can be hoped that fewer people would compete with each other to provide the same goods and services, would work at close to their maximum production capacity and would thus earn more.
A Side Note on Impact of Individual Poverty and Level of Ethics in Society
It is very common to see most Indians blame ‘corruption’ for the plight of Indian economy. However, what I would like to point out is that the most Indians would not have qualms associating with individuals they know to be corrupt – as friends, relatives or someone to seek favors from. I am not questioning the morals of the said people. What I am trying to point out is that though the phenomenon of corruption is unacceptable in the society at large, paradoxically, corrupt individuals are acceptable. The reason for this is that the corrupt individuals are more likely to be resourceful. What does this say about our society? I will try to explain the reason for this. When per capita income of the individuals would be less, survival and procurement of basic resources becomes that much more difficult. There is immense competition among individuals living with each other for the same resources. Most societies do have set rules on what means to procure resources, goods and services for oneself are legitimate and what are illegitimate. Most people would gladly follow these rules if following them would not make significant difference to their probability of being able to procure them. However, if they would be so poor because what they seek would very scarce, it become increasingly fatiguing to observe restraint and not procure what they want through illegitimate means (stealing and extorting). The growing kids are trained by their parents to maximize their ability to procure what they seek. An environment of mutual distrust, lack of empathy (how can you empathize with someone who wants something you yourself do not possess and want?) and cruelty is created. It becomes almost second nature to look upon at others with suspicion and as competitors. Parents would also teach their kids to consume less and to hoard whatever they could get for future. Also, stratification would be created in the society on lines of haves and have-nots. Those who would be having whatever they need (affluent stratum) would be treated with respect, and others would aspire to be like that. The affluent would know that their position is precarious, and others are in dire need of what they own. Thus the mistrust and antagonism between the two strata would be reciprocal. So, the kids growing in such an environment, even when growing up would have sufficient resources to fulfill all their needs, they would want to hoard more of all that, they would continue to think of using illegitimate means to earn as much as they could. It would take a few generations after poverty would be completely eliminated for the inculcation of mistrust and competitiveness to be removed from nurture. The problem with greater acceptability and willingness to use illegitimate means to fulfill one’s needs is that the overall production of the society decreases. To understand this, just think of a simple example of two towns – ‘A’ and ‘B’ population of 1,000 each. Town A does not has sufficient resources and means of production to fulfill the needs of all its residents; furthermore, all the individuals have sufficient money to buy what they need. Thus, in town A, fewer people would be inclined to steal – let us say, just 5 people would be ‘professional’ pickpockets, thieves or dacoits. In contrast, town B has just half the resources of town A, and which means that there would be immense competition among all its residents – for electricity, water, food, etc. They would be lot more willing to steal or physically fight each other to get what they want. Thus, it is possible that instead of 5, 100 people would be professional pickpockets, thieves or dacoits. Which means, 100 people would be lost from the workforce and effective work force would be only of 900 (whereas, it would be 995 in town A).
The Final Solution
I hope I have been able to illustrate above how reducing the population density would reduce the overall demand for scarce resources and various good and services that could be produced using them, would reduce disguised unemployment, and how that would reduce individual poverty and increase purchasing power. Also, as individual poverty would reduce, and respectful means of survival would be possible without resorting to illegitimate means, unethical practices (corruption) would become less acceptable in the society and those indulging in them would be ostracized and/or punished with greater likelihood. Fewer people resorting to illegitimate means of procuring what they want is also likely to increase the productivity of the population.
I had started tweeting about this, and thought a slightly more elaborate blog post was in order.
Today, my family had traveled to a nearby city in our car, and as nobody in my family is confident enough to drive, we had hired a driver for the purpose. He is not in our regular employment, and we had availed of his services once in the past. He is 38 year-old, married, Tamilian by mother tongue, but (perhaps, born and) brought up in Mumbai since he was aged 8 years, and had studied till class 8. I am not aware of his caste, but perhaps is Brahmin as he had mentioned “Iyengars” as his relatives. There is not much I know of him that would betray his general disposition, except that he expressed disappointment several times that he did not study beyond class 8 because he found out to his dismay that minimum qualification for many government jobs was having passed class 10. He had his run ins with corruption when trying to get a passport for himself. He had at one point mentioned that with advancing age he no longer enjoyed driving at high speeds as it would risk his life (which he feared on account of having a family to take care of), and that the basic purpose of having a car was to go from point A to B instead of depending on more inconvenient public transport, and to not “speed”. His elder son is in class 12, and younger one perhaps in class 10, and he had already tried to have financial plans in place to enable his sons to study further. I saw him getting quite agitated each time he would see the traffic policemen relegate their duty in more serious matters, and instead trying to chase someone for their quota of “targets” or bribes. At few points my father was driving the car and whenever father would get anxious (or mildly panicky) if a speeding car would overtake from the wrong (left) side, the driver would assure him to just stick to his lane and not worry about what others do – however, I would not extrapolate this to mean he would necessarily have or recommend the same attitude in other areas of life.
I had been witness to a conversation between my father and him involving the current state of politics. The driver was the more vocal one. My father had hardly expressed any views contradictory to his. I had deliberately stayed out of the conversation as I was finding it fascinating to hear some ‘offline’ person’s views on something I keep on discussing/debating day in and day out over tiwtter. So, there was little leading on by my dad. I would say that the driver was initially measured in his words, perhaps, not wanting to say something my dad would find unsavory, unaware of his political views and preferences, however, he became a bit more assertive as he saw his and my father’s views converge. The distinct conclusions I could draw from hearing him were:
1. Extreme cynicism towards Indian politicians. He was very clear that politicians work for private gains at the cost of national interest. But on the other hand, it seemed natural to him that the politicians ought to work for larger good of the nation, and not pilfer money from it. His cynicism somehow did not seem to lower his demand of the politicians that they be both honest and efficient. Furthermore, he was not willing to make any allowances to the politicians who he saw by and large as dishonest and malevolent. He wondered several times (in general about rich people [politicians and businessmen] who would amass large amounts of money through dishonorable means), “itne paise ka kya karega yeh log? Marne ke baad kahaan lekar jaayega?” ["what will these (rich people) do with so much money? Where will they take this money to after dying?"].
2. He found Sharad Pawar the most corrupt politician. He pointed out that while the Nehru-Gandhi family had several decades to amass all the wealth they had, Pawar had amassed most of the wealth in just last 5 years or so, which was astonishing to him. However, I would want to point out that the backdrop was the conversation happening in a privately owned educational institute which is rumored to have discreet stakes of Sharad Pawar, so the sprawling campus with impressive infrastructure might have skewed his views [had he seen similar 'empires' belonging to other politicians, he might have not appeared so confident about Pawar being the greatest beneficiary of corruption in Indian politics].
3. He found the Congress totally pathetic, and the BJP hardly better. He clearly stated that it was the Congress that was responsible for the present poor plight of the nation. However, he also blamed the Indian citizens stating, “sau rupaye ke note ke liye Congress ko vote dega toh kya hoga?”. Somehow without prodding, he also added, “BhaJaPa bhi waisa-ich hai. Woh log bhi kuchh alag nahin kiya. Woh log ne bhi paisa khaaya” ["Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) is also like the Congress. They hadn't done anything different. They had also siphoned off money"].
4. Views on Lalkrishna Advani and Narendra Modi. I was eager to hear his views on Modi, however, I was surprised my father had not brought him up despite being quite partial to him, and the driver clearly lamenting lack of any good leaders. But after talking of the BJP’s dismal past performance, he profusely praised Atal Bihari Vajpayee (ABV) following my father praising ABV (indicating his praise of ABV was perhaps not entirely sincere). At that point the driver mentioned that there was no need for ABV to have taken Lalkrishna Advani (LKA) along with him in 1999. He said that it was obvious that nobody would’ve voted for the BJP with LKA as their prime ministerial candidate in 2009. He seemed to feel that somehow only ABV had been a sincere prime minister up till now. Then suddenly without prodding again, he turned to Narendra Modi (NaMo). Vaguely from my memory, he said, “Usne pehale jo bhi kiya, usko maalum hai ki kya karna hai. Woh kuchh toh kar raha hai.” ["Whatever he did in the past (mostly alluding to the alleged role in Gujarat riots, but with certain measure of agnosticism of veracity of those allegations or even indifference cuz of finding them irrelevant today, and also with a tinge of disapproval), he knows what is to be done. He is (at least) doing something"]. My inference: he looked at NaMo as a distinctly unique phenomenon in the present condition of Indian politics, however, he was not too passionate or expectant of him to deliver (that, despite my dad having praised Modi and sort of endorsed the kind of administrative work he’d done in Gujarat [at one point, both my parents had pointed out that the quality of roads penetrating right into the villages had improved phenomenally under his administration]). Part of his lack of excitement seemed to stem from what he had to say further: “BhaJaPa ka dusra log usko PM ban-ne nahin dega. Woh sab log ko bhi PM ban-ne ka hai, na?” ["Others (top leadership) of the BJP won't let him become the PM. They all also harbor prime ministerial ambitions, no?]. I don’t remember his exact words, but had declared rather dreamily that if NaMo wants, he can be the PM. Why all of this assumes significance is because he is a Tamilian, hailing from Mumbai, and despite being so unrelated to NaMo, had not mentioned any other politician as part of his political wish list.
5. National media seemed to have little direct impact on his opinions. It somehow became clear to me that his primary sources of information were not the kind of mass media I would be exposed to (media houses owned by large corporations like the NDTV and the Times group). I had seen him read a Tamil newspaper, the title of which I don’t know. But it somehow strongly seemed that his inferences were based largely in what he heard from others (hearsay) – some passed on from elders in his family or neighborhood, and others drawn from the everyday chatter. However, national media might get to set the agenda for this everyday chatter.
A few disclaimers from my side:
1. It is certainly not obligatory upon any of the readers to a priori take my account as faithful or honest. However, as it is me who is reporting this, it would make no sense to bargain with me to modify some of the words I have attributed to the said driver, and any discussion on this post follows with the acceptance of a precondition that I’ve quoted the driver accurately, and also that my interpretations of his words and non-verbal means of communication were accurate. I’m sadly having to say this because I have read so many accounts in the mainstream media and sometimes even on blogs, which to me seemed at least partly cooked up. But now I am in the same shoes, as I recount something that could be politically (and also emotionally to some) sensitive, and hence, find the mistrust harbored towards others (which I continue to do) mildly embarrassing.
2. My interpretation of what the driver had meant, apart from the spoken word, was also based on his tone, mannerisms, the immediate context of conversation, etc., and hence it could be inaccurate. I had not participated till quite late in the conversation with the intent of avoiding influencing it one way or the other.
3.I do not think the driver’s views were necessarily representative of any religious/linguistic community or socioeconomic class, but I found his views instructive and valuable, because they came from a person seemingly very different from me in many ways (I am not so passionate as him about politics and governance, for one).
4. The driver did seem to be a bit reserved in his opinions, perhaps with the awareness that strong views on politicians could hurt other people’s sentiments, but I must also point out that my father had anyway hardly taken lead in any of the various tangents in the conversation. So, though his words might have not been an exact reflection of his views, they seemed more or less honest.
I replied something to a fellow tweeter, and realized that tweet described one of my prominent traits quite accurately. I thought that would be my apt twitter ‘bio’. And, I reached the field from where I could edit it. Exactly when I was about to use the ruthless backspace on my keyboard to send the old bio into oblivion, I realized I’d developed quite an emotional connect with it. I don’t know how many people might’ve chosen to follow (or to not follow) me reading it, how many people it would’ve intrigued or perhaps would it have made subtly smile among those who’d have understood it *exactly* the way I wanted it understood. I wanted to apologize to my old twitter bio for terminating its services so abruptly despite having served me so well. After all, I have found the Love of my life over twitter when my bio was the one I’m sending into retirement. I did not have the heart to wipe off its existence just like that, in few impulsive strokes, so here is the space I feel befitting for it to have a secure existence in:
My RATional brainlet is charged. It has RATions. RATions repel away the CATions – no positive attitude! Atheist.
Some readers might find it condescending to have meaning of the above explained, but precisely in light of what my new twitter bio is, I hope such readers would empathize with my desire to clarify its meaning as I prefer playing it safe. I don’t like my words to be shrouded in enigma or carry a risk of being incorrectly understood, which is reflected in the labored language I use on most occasions. So, here it is…
I wanted to indulge in some self-deprecatory humor, hence, ‘brainlet’ instead of a full fledged brain, but I also wanted to eulogise myself by advertizing how rational I think I am, and hence the personification of ‘brain’ as ‘rational’. I capitalized the RAT in RATional simply to contrast with CAT in CATions. Cations are positively charged ions, which the RATions had managed to repel away, hence my brainlet was left ‘not positive’, and hence, “No positive attitude”, which is more or less in line with my generalized cynicism. “Atheist” is of course, self-explanatory.
When I’d started expressing myself over the internet, I was obsessed with highlighting the evils of organized religion, and even personal theism. Furthermore, I find belief in a sentient, active (intention-driven), Omnipotent, Omnipresent, all-good, charitable and benevolent ‘God’ a dishonest one to harbor subject to the degree to which the believer would’ve had the opportunity to gather knowledge (largely based in science) and apply it while choosing to start believing or continuing to do so. However, I no longer get irked by manifestations of orgaized religion or theism so much as to keep ranting against them. I also had realized some theists find it offensive that an atheist would advertize so prominently their lack of belief. All in all, I had been growing uncomfortable identifying myself as an atheist upfront. So, that irrelevant identification goes away.
Here’s my new twitter bio:
I am too vain to want to make peace with the words I use being understood differently than what I would mean.
This in response to a very narrow aspect of Vidyut’s blog post – Globalization – Brain Drain (click).
Expense of education borne by less developed country, while fruits of the person’s service are reaped by developed countries. Today’s outrage on Twitter was the government making it mandatory for doctors going abroad for further education to return to work in India after completing their education and reserves the right to enforce it by not issuing No Objection Certificates to doctors who don’t comply. The government of India estimates some 3,000 doctors who studied in government subsidized hospitals have left the country in the last one year. The annual cost of each student is about 31.31 lakh rupees, while fees charged are Rs.850/- per annum. The government is paying the difference per student that results in no gain to the citizens. 939 crores is no amount to sneeze at. In a country with high poverty, scarcity of medical professionals and tight budgets, this money should be better utilized or recovered.
What Vidyut says makes sense, but what about the underlying presumption that the Government actually spends Rs. 31 lakhs over each student per annum? Can that claim stand scrutiny? Using emotional blackmail, the insinuation that doctors (as against other professionals), by default, need to be altruistic (there is a difference between being humane and altruistic) and citing that doctors anyway “make loads of money” later in their lives, doctors-in-training, in my opinion, are meted out with perhaps the most inhuman treatment of all the students, and that position seems to find even accent of the society at large. The inhuman treatment I am talking of involves working hours bordering on ordeal faced in rigorous imprisonment, and the ‘bonds’ to be fulfilled because the government would have purportedly “spent” huge amounts of money on ‘making’ doctors. Hence, this topic has been very dear to me.
Though I must again clarify, I have not read Vidyut’s entire blog post. I am only responding to a very narrow aspect of the basis of reasoning in her blog post, that the government indeed spends more on ‘making doctors’ than what doctors ‘give back’.
The figure of Rs. 31 lakhs on a 5.5 years per student is a total hyperbole. I don’t think there is any way to account for that kind of spending. I have, needless to say, completed an MBBS course in a government sponsored seat (in a private college), and my annual fee for a period of 4.5 years was Rs. 15,000.
Now, the issue of “bond” has been a huge one with most young medicos, so I have pondered very much on the entire issue. I fail to see how exactly the government spends the humongous amounts on medical students it claims to spend.
Let us do a rough break up for a government/aided institute with an **attached** hospital (having which is anyway mandatory to get MCI recognition). In an average batch there are 100 students in most colleges. It is mainly only in the first year that the teachers are purely of ‘academic’ kind, meaning, they do not do anything in their routine course of work that would contribute to public health care duties [anatomy, physiology and biochemistry], of which the biochemistry staff would be involved in conducting tests on lab samples of patients from the attached hospital. Now because this a government/aided institute, the attached hospital would be also of government/charitable? So, whatever duties the biochemistry staff discharges towards the patient welfare by conducting tests on and reporting on those tests on the patient samples, is **not** in service of the undergraduate medical students? So, at least part of the biochemistry staff pay ought to be borne by the government, because it is the government that has promised universal health care for all, and not the medical students? But yet, let us for the time being forgo the duties discharged by the biochemistry staff towards patient welfare. Let us presume that undergraduate medical students be **made to** pay for patient welfare towards which they actually have no obligations. Let us assume there are approximately 4 teachers per department in the first year. So, that comes to 12 teachers. And, then there would be assistant staff also equal in number. That comes to approximately 24 employees in all. Their mean salary can be computed to around Rs. 25,000 per month (pays of teachers are pretty high, but that of non-teaching staff are very low), which comes annually to 72,00,000 for the pay of all the employees. But, let us assume that of whatever the government pays to the employees, at least 10% will come back to it as income tax, for which students must not be made to pay? So, let us take the total pay borne by the entire batch to be Rs. 65 lakhs per annum. I’m presently discounting other staff like office clerks, administrative officers, security personnel cuz the onus of their upkeep falls on students of all the years and also on the employees. Also, now let us think of the lab equipment that might have required to be spent on training of the students, electricity expense (including that of hostels), cadaver maintenance, microscopes, glass slides, cover slips, etc (most of these instruments are bought for years together and not every year; average light microscope costs like Rs. 20-40 thousand). At the outset, I would like to point out that none of these facilities were truly ground breaking or exquisitely expensive. None of these facilities were extraordinarily more expensive than would be spent on someone pursuing their Masters in some other field of science like biochemistry, microbiology, physics or organic chemistry.Yet, to **round it off**, let me take that overall expense on a batch of 100 first year students to be Rs. 90 lakhs. How much does it come to per student per annum? Rs. 90 thousand. Now we’ll keep this as template expense for subsequent years. One may quibble about the number of teachers or other staff, but let me assure you, I’ve really taken the maximum possible expense on all of this.
In the second year, there are pathology, pharmacology, microbiology, and forensic medicine & toxicology (FMT). It is again only pharmacology staff that is usually not involved in patient care. FMT people, in many but not all colleges, serve other obligatory duties not directed towards student education, like performing autopsies, being involved in medicolegal cases, serving as forensic experts, sometimes managing cases of poisoning, etc. But pathology and microbiology staff do indeed contribute significantly to patient care. So, what portion of pay that pathology and microbiology staff get is for training students, and what portion of it is towards caring for the patients that government had promised to care for, and towards which the medical students have no responsibilities? In an average year, there are no more than 200 lectures and demonstrations/practicals per subject. So, one teacher would not be usually engaged in teaching/training activities for more than 100 days (towards that batch), but whereas they are on duty for patient welfare on all (working) days of the year, which means they’re putting in more working hours towards patient welfare than on students. So, what portion of their pay as well as the pay of non-teaching staff be borne by the students, and what portion by the government/patients? Again, to be just harsh on the students, let us say, half would be paid by the students. So, that again comes to Rs. 72 lakhs of pay to be borne by students (of the Rs. 96 lakh salary paid, in all), and after deducting income tax, that comes to Rs. 65 lakhs. We’ll assume other costs to remain the same. So, again per annum each student ought to pay Rs. 90 thousand as fee. But the second ‘year’ is of actually 1.5 years, so make it Rs. 1.35 lakhs.
Coming to the third year. It has ENT, ophthalmology and preventive and social medicine (PSM). In a government/aided college, all the third year departments are heavily involved in patient care activities. So, half of their pay should be borne by the government? Unlike in the first year, there are no elaborate ‘experiments’ to perform for any significant expenditure to occur. So, students should pay for Rs. 32.5 lakhs for staff pay (half Rs. 65,000 that was calculated for the first year)? Rest of the expense we’ll keep nearly the same. So, total spending on the 100-student batch is of Rs. 60 lakhs. Per student per annum that comes to Rs. 60,000.
Coming to the final year: there are four major subjects – internal medicine, general surgery, obstetrics & gynecology and pediatrics. But, there are some ‘allied’ subjects as well – anesthesia, orthopedics, radiodiagnosis, etc. But very, very few lectures and clinics are conducted for allied subjects. So, if we club together the allied subjects as one single subject (in terms of cost of the staff members to be borne by students), then we have five subjects. Total pay of staff comes to Rs. 1.2 crores, of which **half** is to be borne by the students – that comes to Rs. 60 lakhs. After income tax deduction that would be Rs. 54 lakhs. Rest of the expenses remain constant, so that comes to around Rs. 80,000 per annum per student.
How much the total comes to? Rs. 3.6 laksh! But, but, but we’ve not included the pay of librarians, cashiers, security personnel, administrative officers – etc., most of who work not only for the students, but also for the employees’ and patients’ benefit. We’ve not included the costs of library – new books, subscription to periodicals, etc (which are used by the teachings staff as well and not just the students). Still, to make the students shoulder some of that burden, we will ask the students to pay one more lakh rupees? How much that comes to? Rs. 4.6 lakhs. But in this country where we like no accountability and answerability, we can throw around figures the way we like. So, we make the **total** expense of four-and-a-half years of academic component of the MBBS course to be Rs. 10 lakh! How does this compare with that figure of Rs. 31 lakhs?
Even if I were to assume that I’ve forgotten some significant costs (which I’ve not because I’ve been in this course, and observed these things myself) and also because I’ve actually been on the ‘lavish’ side of making students pay, how much at the most the max expenditure come to? Rs. 10 lakh per student? So, what is the need for a more than seventeen-fold exaggeration? Why 10 lakh be made 1.7 crore? What does this state about the possible intent of the minister/officer making such a claim? And then, why not say that the government spends Rs. 15 lakhs on each student passing some commerce or science or humanities degree? What does the government do to the MBBS course to be spending so much?
And yet, I have not taken into account internship. Internship is a period, which in most government college hospital entails that the intern work for inhuman hours. They do **real** work. They get paltry sums for that because they are **training**. The fact is almost every district/government hospital would totally collapse if it were not for the interns and junior residents (pursuing their postgraduation). How much is the stipend paid for internship? I don’t think it is on an average more than Rs. 5,000 per month in most states for internship. Can the government defend putting real patients’ health at risk by letting their care fall in hands of ‘trainees’ as part of ‘education’ of MBBS interns (that they’re trainees is the reason they get such dismal pay, right?)? I hope the reader must have got the point! Government cannot indulge in farce of saying that it is providing public ‘health care’ by opening up government hospitals for the tax payers and then also claim that the tax payers are experimental subjects for trainees? Either the government has opened these hospitals for patient welfare or for training. It cannot be both at the same time. If it is for patient care, then, the real work done by interns for real patients (not dummies, as ‘training’ would ideally entail), then the interns’ work should be recognized as real labor and be compensated appropriately by paying close to what they would pay to a medical officer, which would come to around Rs. 40,000 per month. But if the government is not treating the work done by interns as real work, but only a part of their hands on training, then the same should be displayed openly on the notice boards outside government hospitals that the patients are getting subsidized treatment because they have consented to be experimental subjects of interns who’re getting ‘trained’. Would the government ethically and legally be able to do that? No! But, because the interns need to be under ‘supervision’ (they get a provisional medical license to ‘practice’ medicine and surgery under supervision) for a year, so let us say that they ought to be paid only half of what a medical officer gets paid, which comes to Rs. 20,000 per month. I think this is reasonable. If there are any contentions to this point, they’re invited. Which means, on an average, the government is already taking away some Rs. 15,000 from each intern’s pocket! That comes to some Rs. 1.8 laksh. But the government officials are ever so ready to point out the ‘free’ electricity that they provide to students and the accommodation (which trust me, hardly ever actually gets provided, and of course is not of that tune. I mean, how can a student in a hostel where no refrigerators or air conditioners are allowed end up spending Rs. 1,000 worth of electricity every month?).
So, in the end, of some odd Rs. 10 lakh the government **at the very most** could be spending on a medical student, which certainly it does not, the government is already taking away some odd Rs. 1.5 lakhs from the student.
Most of the above calculation was actually farcical. I personally feel, the most that the government spends on an MBBS student in the entire course is like Rs. 2.5 to 3 lakhs. Of which the government anyway takes away Rs. 1.5 laksh during internship. And furthermore, in states like Maharashtra, as far as I know, the present annual fee is Rs. 40,000, though I’ll have to confirm (which comes to Rs. 1.8 lakhs for the entire course). So, if one is reasonable, an MBBS student from Maharashtra, by way of simply completing the MBBS course, is already paying the government some Rs. 30-40 thousand! So, this talk of student having to ‘pay back’ the government is total crap!
Likewise, if we give same consideration to the postgraduate courses, most of the junior residents are on round-the-clock duty and for all days of the year. Is a stipend on scale of ~ Rs. 30,000 per month justified for the kind of labor extracted out of them [it is mandated that no Indian worker (there is no reason why trainees/interns wouldn't fall in the ambit of this provision) should work more than 48 hours per week, and absolutely not more than 60 hours a week. Any hours in excess of 48 have to be considered 'overtime', and paid for at higher rate than routine pay accordingly]? So, even through a post graduation course (PG) the government is actually extracting more out of the PG students than it is ‘spending’ on them. In fact, in PG courses, there are hardly any official lectures or ‘practicals’. There is virtually no ‘lab equipment’ for ‘experiments’. ‘Training’ involves **routine** work of a government-managed hospital **meant for patients’ welfare** getting done in which PG students are observers/supervised laborers. Other costly machines like CT scanners, MRI, PET scanners, PCR facility, automated assays are **for patients** and not for students to **learn** by treating patients and data generated from them as **experimental subjects**. So, if at all, all ethical and legal issues are considered, I feel, it is the government that would end up feeling obliged to significantly raise the pay of the PG students and also reduce their working hours, rather than throwing tantrums and asking for ‘money back’.
In fact, medical and related courses are unique in that just by the process of undergoing training, the students end up doing lot of service to the society at large. I do not know, for instance, if as part of their routine ‘service to the society’, law students are expected to help fighting of cases for ‘underprivileged’ suitors/defendants. Or if electrical engineering trainees have to do maintenance work for a thermal power station operated by the government.
But even if we were to assume that the government indeed incurs the cost that it claims to do in training of medical students, and that by way of that, it is ‘indebting’ the medical students in certain way, then there should be the option of student not getting indebted? Why subsidize the education compulsorily? Why should the student not ought to have option of taking an education load and not taking ‘favors’ from the government,and actually paying the fee **while** undergoing the course?
The fact is: this is an elaborate scam! Please read my comment on Wise Donkey’s blog post on dismal health care facilities in village here for maternal health here: Roots (click).
Coming to the more practical issues. As long as the government does not incentivize medicos going to the rural areas (e.g., by providing tax benefits, higher pay and good infrastructure), there is no point in sending highly trained doctors to places where their training would go waste because of lack of equipment and something as basic as electricity! The foreign-trained doctors coming back to India would anyway end up serving only the affluent class (where actually lot of competition already exists to ‘serve’ them), unless the government shows some more imaginary expenses in having subsidized those doctors’ flight tickets and makes it mandatory for them to join district hospitals or primary health centers!
So, while the issue of dismal health care delivery system for poor and rural classes is a real issue in itself, ethically speaking, it is unacceptable to make doctors a scape goat by pointing to imaginary costs borne in their training. Let the legislators come out in open and say, “We’re exploiting you doctors, not cuz you owe us anything, but simply cuz we **can** and we **need to** cuz we don’t have it in us to fight the market forces, to provide you with good infrastructure in rural areas, good facilities and humane working hours in facilities erected and managed by us, and because we cannot pay you well enough to lure you away from corporate sector or private practice, and we cannot tempt you with good research facilities. And we need to do that cuz in every election we promise the people that we will do good to them, and on that pretext we collect various kinds of taxes. Kya ukhaad loge humaara?” And, that would be closer to truth.
Relationship Limbo (click) is a blog post by G. Khamba, and this post is in response to what he writes and asks there (and it can be taken as actually addressing him).
I was unaware of the term ‘relationship limbo’, but I was certainly aware of the phenomenon, the way it is felt in one’s mind. Certain points in the technical sounding definition need elucidation, or if I were to assume a less authoritative tone, need to be interpreted by me for the purpose of this blog post. First is the term ‘underlying power structures’. The knowledge that the other person is more emotionally dependent on you than you are on them automatically puts you in a more powerful ‘superior’ position. While, some might consciously or otherwise go on to exploit that situation, some others might get excessively sympathetic. This realization itself would make the interactions more influenced by the constant awareness of power-disparity (e.g., some kind of smugness by the one in more powerful position as against some feeling of servility by the one more attracted/emotionally dependent) or the preservation of its status quo might be the guiding factor for the one in a more powerful position. I am not saying that the one in more powerful position would always do so deliberately, but apart from the subconscious liking for such power, one would be aware that giving up on it would also entail apart from losing it, a risk of getting more emotionally dependent on the other and thus in contrast, enter a less powerful position, a prospect that would inspire fear. The second usage that particularly impressed me was “attempting to expand to a higher emotional terrain inorganically”. I guess, it means at least from perspective of one less emotionally dependent, that any kind of reciprocal commitment, approval or acknowledgement shown by them for the other persona’s expression of emotional dependence would be an outcome of not their innermost impulses, but a certain kind of deliberate calculation, which would take away the element of spontaneity from what they say or how they behave. And hence, the qualifier ‘inorganic’. The tragedy of this situation is that the originally less dependent person might have actually ended up feeling the same things in same intensity as their partner, but in their mind, their reciprocating is likely to be remembered as a ‘decision’ rather than a ‘feeling’.
I can’t be sure what exactly you meant by being an “asshole”, but I presume you meant it as “impulsive”. I think this distinction is important to keep in mind, because being an “asshole” would entail essentially hurting others, whereas not all instances of acting on impulses need hurt others. You are very right in pointing out that one would fear being impulsive because of the feared unsavory consequences. But here it needs to be understood why giving into impulses is an important issue. Because each instance of not giving into an impulse is associated with build up of anxiety. I am no expert in psychology, but this is akin to the manifestation of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), wherein one gets an intrusive unpleasant thought (‘obsession’) that causes anxiety (e.g., ‘dirt’ on one’s hand) and the need to relieve it is felt as a ‘compulsion’. The only way the said anxiety can be relieved is by giving into one’s impulses. So, my suggestion would be to give into impulses. Yes, there could be untoward consequences of that, which I will deal with a bit later (in particular, why not to regret them). Of course, before I ‘advocate’ giving into impulses, I need to compare it with the ‘other’ option available as well, and that is, of doing everything with great deliberation. Now everyone’s views might be different on this, but one thing I have learned about life is that it is not really amenable to long-term planning. Meaning, we try to plan things, and in particular in case of relationships, try to ‘pace’ things the way we think they would be appropriate in the *hope* that things will eventually turn out right. But what we tend to disregard in this entire consideration is that each time we are planning and not allowing ourselves to give into our impulses, we are losing an opportunity to be ‘alive’, we are in effect postponing life for living later. Of course, this you have explained very well:
Time also kills spontaneity in conjunction with the fearball because you’re too busy trying to place relationship limbo in context with your existence instead of living in that moment and enjoying what it has brought to you.
And the reason doing so is wrong because our presumption that if we do certain ‘right’ things that will in turn result in certain ‘right’ things is unfounded! I hope with that I have made a good case for why being impulsive might not be that bad an idea.
Of course, till this point I have hardly said anything original.
Let me first try to allay any element of regret that might exist because of having made known your feelings and thus in effect, introduced a ‘singularity’ in the trajectory of entire relationship. The reasons why being honest is the best thing to do are:
1. It relieves one of the concern whether one is being honest enough in a relationship by hiding something significant they feel for the other person. E.g., simplest of things I would do, which would make my love interest happy/cheerful/more drawn to me (irrespective of the same being the intent or not) would be riddled with a guilt-admixed doubt that I would be deceiving her by not letting her known that her being drawn to me is an ‘outcome’ I would be interested in. In other words, till one admits one’s feelings for the other person, every single thing that brings the two people closer is adulterated by the guilt of the intent being an ‘ulterior’ one. Of course, I cannot say that the same need happen with everyone. But I believe, I could relate with you very well, and somewhere in your predicament, element of this kind of doubt must have played a role.
2. The asymmetry between emotional dependence of the two persons that is such an important part of the entire definition of ‘relationship limbo’ would actually have be a retrospective realization. When two people are emotionally close to each other, it is never really easy to tell, who, of the two is more dependent on the other. The one feeling restless by one’s feelings or feeling guilty (guilt of the kind I mentioned in point one), is apt to automatically assume that the other person is “less” dependent. But again, to assume the same would be wrong. There are many reasons this emotional dependence might not manifest as intensely as it would be felt [here I need not emphasize upon distinction between manifestation of/admitting to emotional dependence and its actual feeling] by the one expressing it. It is quite possible that once one makes one’s feelings known, the other person would go on to express an even greater degree of dependence, though generally our insecurity would not allow us to take this possibility into consideration. So, if one were to believe that the relationship felt between the two persons is likely to reach a meaningful conclusion, obviously, one of the two will have to take an initiative and blurt out things felt in their ‘heart’. Because otherwise things between the two would just stagnate.
So with that I hope that at least I have convincingly proved that admitting to one’s feelings and thus making relationship reach such a limbo in the first place is not that bad a thing to do after all, maybe because, what you call a “limbo” was just a check point (albeit, unpleasant one) in the entire journey!
Now coming to the actual dealing of relationship limbo part.
1. Understand your own worth.
While, the one in the more emotionally dependent state would easily believe that their love interest is the best thing to happen to them and losing them would be a calamity (which they would be right in feeling given their state of mind), it is equally important to understand that by virtue of the fact that your (erstwhile) friend (and now sort of partner) wants to take chances and is willing to bide their time, you also mean something very important to them. You have to understand that if the something were to go ‘wrong’, it would be ‘bad’ for both of you, and not just you alone. Though it sounds silly and selfish, if you know how good you are, the knowledge that both had something at stake, which they would have lost, would sort of console you if at all the relationship eventually fails.
2. Explain the ambivalence and the emotional unrest to your partner.
I am presuming that though there might be an asymmetry in how intensely the two people feel about each other, they can at least on an intellectual and emotional plane relate with each other to have reached a relationship limbo in the first place. So, explaining how one feels and how one finds it hard to juggle between the impulses one feels (like wanting to make that phone call when one would know one ‘should’ not make it) and doing the sensible thing to do should help. Because if you go to the point one above, you know that the onus of making the relationship work is not merely on you. If your partner knows that you’re feeling these distressing things, then, it is possible they would be more accommodating and might also set a much higher threshold of tolerance. And believe me, when people know that they are being loved by the person they themselves love, they would usually be willing to go that extra mile.
So, to sort of summarize the two major things I wanted to convey:
1. Remove any elements of planning or possible regret from your thought process. Because, both planning and regret are two sides of the same coin, in that both need us to presume ‘how things would be/would have been’. In case of planning we feel, “If I do ‘x’ then ‘y’ will happen (and that ‘y’ will be ‘good’)”. And in case of regret it is like, “had I done ‘x’ then ‘y’ would have happened (and that ‘y’ would have been good)”. And needless to point out, to view our life from perspective of such two-tiered presumptions is quite wrong. Yes, whether this knowledge would make you a less emotional and more robotic being is something for you to decide. [But no, it does not make one robotic]. An important side-note here, which relates to my philosophy for life as a whole and not just relationship limbo is the pact I believe one should make with the self, and that is: to never regret what choices one makes. Because in light of the above erroneously assumed “x-y” causal relationship, regret should have no place in our thought processes. So, if one were to know that one is *never* going to regret whatever happens in life, perhaps, it would be easier to ‘live in the present’ and give into one’s impulses.
2. Do not take upon yourself the entire responsibility of making the relationship grow and sustain. Because despite some disparity in how intensely the two partners feel for each other or to what extent they might be emotionally committed to each other, both have something at stake. By ‘not taking all responsibility’ I do not mean not taking the initiative to strike up a conversation or talking of what’s on your mind, but that you must stop feeling that the fate of the relationship is going to be decided only by *your* choices or that it (relationship’s fate) will affect *only you*. Let your partner also feel equally/comparably responsible for whatever happens with the relationship. In fact, I believe such things need to be explained in almost the same plain words I have used here. If your partner understands you well, she will not take it as a threat, but a serious point to consider. Believe me, if your partner sees you trust her with emotions and thoughts such integral to you, her barrier and hesitation would also dissolve. Because these kind of emotions tend to work in a positive feedback (in my observation): you tell her how you feel (with honesty) –> she feels more of how she feels –> she tells you about what she feels (with honesty) –> you feel more confident –> you tell her how you feel (with honesty), etc. So, usually the problem does not lie at the level of lack of intensity of how one feels but other apprehensions that prevent them from acting on how they feel [this applies more to the emotionally less dependent partner]. So hopefully, your initiatives with regard to being honest would set in such a positive feedback loop and the barriers she/you feel would be subsequently dissolved.
It is possible I have not been very coherent. Obviously, I have written this post as quite an ‘impulsive’ response.
[To answer the questions you had asked at the end of your post, yes, I would like to believe I have very recently gotten out of a similar limbo, and my 'tips' sort of encapsulate what I myself had done. But then I also need to give some credit to the wonderful person who made our coming out of such limbo possible because of her maturity, honesty and farsightedness. And no, this post is not an excuse to compliment her, but the 'compliments' are merely matter of fact-expression of how I look at things, and incidental! Also, I have reasons to believe had the relationship limbo in my life not ended, I would have still come up with the same points I mentioned above, but perhaps, with somewhat lesser confidence].
Yesterday night I had had a phone conversation with my good friend after about 7 months, and any serious conversation between us had taken place even more than 9 months back. He is still in a committed relationship with the same person he was with nine months back, which in all is around two years old. While I know many people online who I admire for the insights they provide me into the workings of many things, my friend is the only person in real life, who I admire tremendously for the insights he offers into the workings of the human mind and the dynamics of interpersonal interactions. He is not very articulate, but fortunately, because of the bond we share, he needs to just begin with a sentence, and I would usually be able to retrieve on that cue a thought from the recesses of my mind that would have been generated from a similar experience he would have related, and I would be in a position to complete the articulation of his thought for him. The beauty of his thought process that I so admire lies in the fact that irrespective of the emotional impact of any event on him, in some time he would be able to take a most honest, dispassionate and detached view of the events, and also put into perspective their long- and short-term consequences in the larger scheme of things, that is his life. His thoughts would not be riddled with anger, vindictiveness or envy on one hand, nor would pity, affection, guilt or wistfulness have a bearing on the other. And most important, his honesty would permit him to say it like it is (in his very good understanding), when with me, with the complete confidence that he would be understood.
With that short background, I want to discuss what he had said yesterday night and my subsequent thoughts on the same.
The last time I had talked to him (around 9 months back) and also met his partner and him (around 8 months back, when ironically we could not have any serious talk), both were faced with a common problem of considerable gravity, and yet, the way they had stuck together and were there for each other had really impressed me and also made me glad. This is the very first relationship he has been into, and to see him display immense maturity in how he had handled issues had amazed me (though, I sort of know what all he is capable of) [his partner, I would say has had to display mental strength and not exactly maturity or wisdom in attempt to tide over the problem, and I do not consider her anywhere as mature or introspective as my friend]. Seeing their affection for each other, I was tempted to infer that nothing could go wrong between them, though I was and am still aware that things do manage to go wrong, and that is what I had discovered to my shock with my yesterday’s phone call. The problem common to them has not yet been resolved, and he told me that they have had many ‘jhagdaas‘ (“fights”) in the interim and that presently he has urged her to not discuss the said issue of contention as it was likely to affect his studies as well as the relationship. I had asked him if these confrontations were serious and if they had eroded the bond they shared between themselves. His reply is what had most amazed and impressed me, and the reason I am publishing this post (unfortunately, I do not remember the exact words, so some amount of adulteration with my words is imminent):
He: Dekh, jab koi kisi ke saath jhagadta hai toh us insaan ke andar ki chhupi hui gandagi baahar aane lagati hai. || See, when someone enters a fight, their baser aspects come to the fore.
Me: Haan, ho sakta hai aisa. || Yes, such a thing can happen.
He: Pehale ek-do baar baahar aaye toh theek hai… || It (the surfacing of baser aspects) is alright on a first few occasions…
Me: …Aur phir baar-baar baahar aaye toh nazarandaaz karna mushkil ho jaata hai? || …And then if that recurs, it is difficult to ignore?
He: Haan, aur phir yeh bhi lagane lagta hai ki kya main is insaan ke liye itna kuchh soch raha hoon? || Yes, and apart from that I also start feeling if it is this person for who I was thinking so much (emotional commitment to the person)? [Context: some of the significant efforts he had to put in, just to stay in that relationship with her. Not that she has not put in similar efforts and made compromises, though. In a way, she has had to show lot more emotional tolerance].
And at that point, we went on to discuss the details of the common problem and if and how his studies were getting affected.
Now it might be tempting for the reader to believe that the above exchange captures the idea in entirety and that there is nothing more to understand, but I do not think so. At least I would not feel satisfied if I do not explain my interpretation of what my friend had meant and the thoughts generated there upon. It should be noted that here I am going to largely speak of highly ‘idealized’ or romanticized relationships, which would have begun at a stage wherein the partners/friends would think very highly of each other and the bond they would feel they share and find it difficult to infer something negative about the other, and on doing so, would likely feel uncomfortable and/or guilty. I believe a very small proportion of the population ever gets into such relationships, so this post is about those few who have entered them, or are likely to enter one some time in the future.
First of all, (my friend’s) entire relationship needs to be put into perspective. The last time I had talked to him, it was not a case that they had not had arguments, but I believe, in none of those exchanges were certain boundaries breached that would have called into question my friend’s judgement of his partner’s core values. And it is these assessed core values that form the basis of the kind of relationship my friend is likely to enter. Thus, till that time he had been able to keep up quite an idealized view of her in his mind save for a few minor differences and unsavory things that he could have dismissed as minor personality defects and mutual compatibility issues. However, when people enter confrontations, and it is some kind of insecurity or fear that drives them, every effort – conscious or subconscious – is expended to have the other person accept one’s own perspective as right and as well the associated demands, if any. In few moments, our beloved becomes our adversary. Somehow, stronger the past affinity, stronger would be the adversarial affect felt, and that is perhaps because we presume we are entitled to our beloved (who would have committed to us) thinking solely of our benefit, and the contention in question would also make us doubt that commitment and deem that as some kind of disloyalty. It is quite possible that even our beloved might be thinking of our ‘benefit’, it is just that ideas on what is ‘beneficial’ might be different. And under the influence of these strong negative emotions one may by design or because of indiscretion end up saying and doing things that would betray envy, hatred, cruelty, apathy, etc., towards our beloved. Additionally, one may end up using one of the dirtiest tricks in the ‘Book’ – emotional blackmail (in its various ranges and shades). Of course, it would be silly to suggest that such emotions always get manifested, or that if they are manifested, they even get noticed. But two things need to be kept in mind – first, people as perceptive as my friend are anyway going to notice such manifestations, and second, even if one summons one’s utmost discretion and ability to remain composed, the knowledge that our mind was filled with such ignoble thoughts during the heat of that moment is difficult to ignore. When they happen for the very first time in a relationship, they lead to a disillusionment. The one noticing such manifestations in their partner for the first time, such as my friend, for instance, would be faced with the kind of predicament he verbalized (in other words, “the one I am so committed to, is he/she deserving of my commitment given how he/she thinks of me in moments of weakness [i.e., when having lost composure]?”). Whereas, the one realizing the cropping up of such negative emotions in their mind, if conscientious enough, is likely to experience a reciprocal guilt (“Oh, shit! How could I think *that* way for my partner? Do I deserve him/her? Do I *really* love him/her the way he/she thinks and I say I do? What happened to all the love I used to feel?”).
In a way, the generation of above kinds of doubts is a good thing. It forces us to question the sustainability of highly idealized view of our relationship that we so wish to hold on to. But whether it indeed proves good or bad eventually depends on how we choose to respond to such doubts. From here, I will try to give ‘tips’ on how such doubts can be addressed. But the key, as the reader would notice, at each stage would be honesty. Honesty, first with the self, and then with one’s partner, which is of course, difficult to summon. And the degree of honesty I advocate and try to observe in matters close to my heart, has been described as “radical” by people more than one. So, the reader shall consider themselves warned! Another ability one would have to summon in what I suggest is one of forgiveness. Here I want to emphasize upon the fact that society lays too much stress on forgiving others, but I believe, problem is many times inability to forgive the self. If I would not be able to explain what “forgiving the self” means and entails in the course of this blog post, it will unfortunately seem little more than rhetoric. So, I will just enumerate some things to consider (in the same sequence as given below) that I believe can help us come to terms with the kind of disillusionment I had tried to outline above:
1. We have little control over the emotions we feel and the thoughts that can cross our mind.
I often give an analogy that our emotions/thoughts are like numbers on a dice (and by that I do not mean to emphasize on the randomness involved, though which is also a consideration). Just like how numbers – one through six – ‘exist’ and hence, any one of them can show up each time a dice is thrown, countless emotions/thoughts exist that can spring up in our conscious/subconscious (mind) each time we reflect and react. Any emotion/thought simply by its virtue of having a possibility to exist, also makes itself available to spring up in our mind. So, why get agitated by realization of our harboring an emotion/a thought that could have sprung up in anyone’s mind?
Once one acknowledges that after all any emotion/thought can manifest in the mind, it should make us free of any shame that we feel on realizing it is us who would have experienced them, or alternatively, enable us to forgive the other person in question to have felt the same. But of course, for most people and in most instances, it is not the occurrence of a thought or an emotion that causes trouble, but rather their manifestations – words or actions – that impact them. But still it is actually the emotion/thought that counts, and I will try to explain how.
Once an emotion or thought is experienced, it makes us prone to do certain things. If those (emotions/thoughts) would be seen as unacceptable, so would be their manifestations. There is only one thing that can stop that thought-impulse from transforming into real world manifestation of word/action – restraint. Just like how in a game you might need 3 on your dice to reach a bonus point, but would not get it on throwing it, there can be occasions when the restraint that requires to be summoned to prevent thought-impulses from converting into words/actions just may not ‘spring up’ in our mind! So, just like how we can forgive the arising of emotion/thought, we can forgive the ‘not arising’ of restraint.
So, in simpler words, it should be possible to forgive the self as well the other person for feeling/thinking/saying/doing whatever they would have under the influence of extreme emotions.
Up till now whatever I have discussed was restricted to the domain of thoughts. However, these thoughts need to be communicated. E.g., I had been into a committed relationship only once in the past, and needless to say, there had been many occasions of passionate confrontations between my partner and me. However, I somehow never felt any dilution in how I had felt for her at the end of those confrontations, because somehow few of those confrontations had involved the two of us. And also, on most occasions I used to make it a point to ask something on lines of, “are you upset with me?” or “are you angry with me?” also with an attendant assurance that I would be able to ‘understand’ if such confrontation would have left any bad taste in the mouth. But I was always assured that those arguments had not affected her feelings for me negatively. However, when she had broken up with me, though she could not give me exact reasons for her disenchantment, she had told me our many, many arguments had made her uncomfortable. Irrespective of whether that we broke up was a good thing or bad, I had reasons to believe that each time I used to ask her if our arguments had affected her, had she taken the questions more seriously and introspected a bit further and come up with honest (to herself as well as to me) answers, things would have worsened in her mind in a graded fashion. Meaning, each time she’d have thought over the nature of confrontations and her and my emotional responses in light of them, she would have got used to the feeling that something ‘wrong’ (less than ideal) had indeed happened between us. Here of course, it was not a case that I did not feel concerned by the possibility of the relationship deteriorating thus, but my ‘mistake’, if I could call it that, was that I used to respect her and believe her feedback that the arguments were not affecting her negatively.
So, why communicate? Because I think, firstly communication of how we might have felt certain negative emotions for the other person requires us to acknowledge them ourselves, which as the reader can make out, is the very first step in this entire exercise. Then furthermore, just like how you would have felt certain negative emotions, your partner might have also felt them, and it would be easier for them to acknowledge and accept the same negative emotions they might have felt if they see you doing the same ["Hmmm... So, I was not alone in hating her in those intense moments; she felt the same as well. So maybe, it's alright."] Plus, on most of the occasions when the two people patch up, which they usually do, at least early on in their relationship, the memories of silly thoughts that would’ve arisen make for funny things to smile at. Of course, it need not so happen that the two people’s emotional responses to the same event of confrontation would be in synchrony and reciprocal. [One of the two might have felt intense rage and the other might not have.] But when one knows that it is ‘alright’ to have experienced rage, forgiving and accepting become easier. Also, for the one having experienced these emotions and also the consequent guilt, it would be easier to forgive the self if they know they would be able to forgive the other for doing the same.
Also, one more benefit of this kind of communication that is likely to arise is that both persons would also be emotionally drawn closer because they would also be playing the role of each others’ confidante, which would further strengthen the bond the two people would have already been sharing.
4. Dealing with the disillusionment.
While, by making the above considerations, one can indeed come to terms with the negative emotions felt in one’s own mind and/or observed in one’s partner, it would imminently leave one wondering whether their perception of the other (and perhaps of mutual compatibility, so to speak), based on which they had decided to get committed to the partner, was right. [This post is also not for those would not want to entertain this frightening prospect of having to revise one's idealized views.]
The process of disillusionment would obviously be painful, but there are many collateral benefits that accrue. First, no longer excessive emotional efforts would be needed to sustain the idealized view of one’s partner and the relationship. Second, one would know that if one could tide over such a crisis once, perhaps, the next time around emotional responses would be more considered (though that sounds like oxymoron, I understand) and that both the partners would have by then already displayed the requisite maturity to forgive the self as well as the other. Third, each time a confrontation would be successfully ‘tided over’ the confidence that the other person indeed wishes well would ideally get boosted and the the element of insecurity and doubt would (ideally) reduce and that of mutual solidarity would increase.
However, the pain that is experienced when this kind of disillusionment happens for the first time is overwhelming. It shakes one’s core and the very basis of convictions on which the relationship would have been built. So, what is the consolation for still staying in that relationship? First, it needs to be understood, and that though it sounds cliched, no relationship is likely to remain perfect for a long time. One would have to, in its course, either scale down one’s expectation of it (and by extension, of the partner) or learn to tolerate some uncomfortable features of it. And all this one is to do with the belief that the life spent with the chosen partner would be (lot) better than the one spent without (him/her).
Now to apply the above considerations to my friend’s case, imagine the entire conversation I had outlined above could have also went thus (had he not summoned utmost honesty in his assessment of the situation):
He (on being asked if their arguments had eroded the bond they had shared): Nahin re! Aise chhote-mote jhagade toh hote rehate hain! Is mein koi chinta ki baat nahin hai. || No, man! Such trivial arguments keep on happening. There is nothing to worry.
Me: Haan, woh toh hai. Tum donon log samajhdaar ho. Bas yeh period guzar jaaye. || Yes, that’s right. You both are sensible people. (I only wish) that this period passes off.
And what perhaps would have then happened would be, both the partners would have discovered (most likely on separate days, making matters worse) that they no longer felt the love they used to! Because at each stage, they would overlook the instances of development of negative affect (both in the self as well as in the other), which would in turn be dictated by their attempted avoidance of feelings of guilt and fear of facing the imminent disillusionment. However, this negativity would pile up in their mind and hit them suddenly when they would be least prepared to experience such vacuum. And then they would panic. Of course, one could still go through the cycle that I have outlined above, but it would take lot more initiative and proactive interest on part of both the partners, and would thus be proportionately more difficult.
I believe, my friend could foresee all of this, and hence responded the way he had. What makes his response admirable is not that he could think all of this (after all, I am also writing a blog post outlining it in some details), but that he could do so in midst of a crisis and that too without having the benefit of been in a relationship before and furthermore, without talking to a confidante like myself in the process. But of course, for all of that he first needed the requisite honesty to recognize that a crisis was actually brewing.
Just as a side note, the reader would be right in wondering that if one were to apply principles outlined in point 1, viz., there being no control over one’s emotions/thoughts to everyday life and then how the same consideration be applied to ‘forgive’, then there would be nothing ‘wrong’ or ‘right’. Everything would be acceptable. Furthermore, what criteria to apply to ‘like’ someone or alternatively reject someone as friend/partner? In an ‘ideal’ world, yes, if everyone were to be so honest, introspective, broadminded and forgiving as demanded by in this post, there would hardly be any problems in the world! But the purpose of this post was very ‘selfish’, in the sense, the entire exercise I have outlined above amounts to intellectual and moral dishonesty in that such allowances would be made for only a select few people to who one would have pledged their commitment, and would thus be partial. And the basis of this selfishness is the maximization of the happiness one could derive from one’s life by remaining in a secure relationship. If by indulging in this kind of intellectual/moral dishonesty, I am able to rescue my relationship and in the process, live a more fulfilling life without bringing harm to anybody, then why not? Ideals, in my opinion, are subservient to our need to lead a fulfilling life. Following of ideals is not an end in itself. And in that there would be nothing wrong with this kind of dishonesty (that is, inconsistent application of standards to judge and/or forgive people based on how emotionally close we would be to them and how much would we be valuing our relationship with them).
A balloon is not a piece of rubber filled with air; it is a closed space filled with virtually infinite numbers of molecules, atoms, subatomic particles, photons and what not, all of them with their own respective direction and momentum, ‘unmindful’ of the direction and momentum of others around. It is all chaos, and we want to think it is the balloon that matters? Happy Independence Day!
Disclosures and disclaimers:
1. There is a mild conflict of interest when it comes to peaceful uses of nuclear energy, because I am training to become a nuclear medicine physician, and a part of my livelihood would depend upon functioning of ‘research’ nuclear reactors (which are much ‘smaller’ compared to nuclear power plants – the kind involved in Fukushima Daiichi station). So, any adverse opinion (informed or otherwise) against nuclear energy in general would tend to antagonize my career. [But of course, the other way of looking is that if I have chosen to enter and serve in this field with continual radiation exposure, I myself as well as several other well-informed people who work in nuclear energy related professions do not consider such an exposure alarming].
2. Though I hold a much better understanding of nuclear physics, related safety aspects, radiation biology, and effects on and interactions of ionizing radiation with the human body, etc. than the laypersons and some ‘opinion-makers’ I have encountered, I am not very knowledgeable about operation of nuclear reactors and how a nuclear disaster might unfold. Nor do I have great knowledge of the past nuclear ‘incidents’/'accidents’, viz., the much talked about Three Mile Island incident and Chernobyl nuclear explosion. So, whatever I write here is to be taken merely as personal opinion of a layperson and not some kind of authority over such matters. However, I will try my best to back up whatever I say with reason.
I had posted a comment in response to a blog post that was urging people to not spread rumors associated with Fukushima disaster (in this particular case, the suggestion that rains in Chennai would be radioactivity-laden and how one must try to prevent the consequent harms). So, I thought I would convert that comment into a blog post with some more inputs. Also, I was getting frustrated to see ill-informed people post sensational tweets on the matter. In addition, most of the coverage in the media has been such that only the seemingly frightening aspects of the Fukushima incidents have been highlighted. It goes without saying that as such nuclear energy has earned itself a very bad name, and with misinformation or selective dissemination of information, people would get further (unduly) frightened.
My understanding about the Fukushima events was largely built based on the following two articles:
1. What Happens During a Nuclear Meltdown? (click) by Scientific American. I also recommend readers to go through the comments section.
Another good article putting in perspective the various exposure rates is this – Fast Facts about Radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Reactors (click) by Scientific American.
One prominent feature of news related to Fukushima has been the assumption that any kind of exposure to ionizing radiation would have catastrophic consequences. Saying that “radiation will screw us” is almost as inane as saying “bacteria will screw us”. Bacteria come in many sizes and shape, some are even beneficial. A bacterial colony in petri dish would not be harmful, but even a single bacterium in the blood stream might divide, overwhelm the immune system and eventually cause lot of harm or even death. Similar is the case with ionizing radiation. Just like we cannot envisage a world without bacteria because of their near universal presence at least on the Earth’s crust, it is impossible to live without radiation ‘exposure’, because ionizing radiation is quite literally omnipresent. So, there is no such thing as ‘zero radiation exposure’, because there are many naturally occurring radioactive isotopes, and some of them had gone on to constitute the most primitive of organisms much before humans had evolved and had a chance to build the first nuclear reactor or test the first fission device. Hence, there is only such thing as ‘background radiation exposure’, and not all of it is because of human activities. So, how much a certain radiation exposure would harm the human body is determined by many factors:
1. The kind of ionizing radiation (and its ‘energy’, which would determine to an extent the penetration power of that particular kind of radiation).
2. The ‘dose’ of exposure. Also, how acute or protracted this exposure is would be an important factor. E.g. 500 ‘units’ of radiation if incident on a person within a few seconds could be lethal, but same dose taken over a few decades would do no discernible harm.
3. The route of exposure – largely classified into internal and external.
So, simply pointing out “there is this much/this many times radioactivity” does not convey much information with regard to the possible effects on health. So many people are talking in sensational terms like ‘radioactivity is 400 times the normal outside the reactors’ or ‘increased radioactivity found in Tokyo’. But the problem is few go one or few steps ahead and ask the right questions!
And those right questions would be:
1. Okay 400 times higher activity outside the reactor, but how much ‘outside’?
Remember, dose rates follow inverse-square law. If the distance increases by ten times, the dose rates would fall by hundred times. So, if activity is 400 times normal one meter outside the reactor, it would be 0.000001 times that just 1 km away! Which is truly insignificant.
2. Okay, radioactivity has been detected just outside the reactor, but what kind of emission is it?
If it is gamma emission then (depending on their energy) they can penetrate through the skin. If they are beta/alpha emissions, they would not be able to breach the dead layer of the skin. Though I must add here that if no active fission reactions would be occurring in the reactors (which they should not occur as the control rods had been dipped fully and had been able to ‘shut off’ the reactor), no alpha particles would be produced. Of course, if this radioactivity enters the body (through inhalation or ingestion – say because of contaminated water), then the beta emissions can cause some harm depending on the total ingested dose and the element ingested. However, people around the reactors have already been administered stable iodine, which will block the entry of (radioactive) iodine-131 into the thyroid, and thus not cause any significant harm. [The institute where I work has administered iodine-131 to over 8,500 patients for treatment of thyroid cancers and hyperthyroidism - no increased incidence of any kind of cancers, fetal malformations or infertility in the patients or in the employees has been found].
3. Okay, radioactivity has been found, but what are the half-lives of the isotopes getting leaked out of the reactors?
Most of the detected radioactivity is because of cesium-137 and iodine-131. Former is a relatively long-lived radioisotope, but is unlikely to be inhaled as it is a heavy metal. Moreover, its half life is long, which is bad, but which is also good, because longer the half-life, fewer the nuclear disintegrations that occur per unit time, lesser the number of ionizing particles/photons emitted per unit time, and which in turn means lower the ‘activity’ and lower the exposure rates arising out of cesium-137 decay. The last thing is good, because fewer the number of ionizing particles/photons emitted per unit time, lesser would be the chance of their interacting with nearby DNA (in the nuclei of cells), and which in turn would mean fewer mutations and lesser chance of cancer development (carcinogenesis). Iodine-131 has a half-life of 8 days. And thus any of iodine-131 released would become negligible in merely few months.
4. Okay, even if the radioactivity is found increased at far off places (like Tokyo), is that a bad thing? And how bad?
First of all, merely the presence of radioactivity in a region does not automatically cause cancers. Though, I must add here that the ‘model’ used by (IRCP) scientists currently to predict risk of cancers from radiation assumes that there is no level of ionizing radiation exposure below which risk of radiation-induced cancer would be zero. Also, this model assumes that the probability of cancer related deaths rises linearly with increased radiation dose. Meaning, if 10 units of radiation dose causes cancer related death in 1 out of 1,000 persons, then, 100 units of radiation dose would cause 10 cancer related deaths in the same population. These cancer and related deaths are known as ‘stochastic effects’ of radiation exposure and the model is called ‘linear non-threshold model’. However, the data was based largely on exposures from Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings, which are not exactly reliable, because the exposure was lot more acute and intense as compared to what might result from recent events in Japan. In deed, in our daily life we keep on getting exposed to some level of radiation – in fact, some of it also enters our body through the food we eat, because there are ‘naturally occurring’ radioactive isotopes! So, in fact farther from the site of leak radioactivity is found we can be assured that with such large scale dispersion the radioactivity must have got ‘diluted’ and its actual amount in any geographical area would be too negligible to have any significant undesirable consequences.
I would also like to add that many of the radioisotopes found just outside the reactor must have been short-lived positron emitters because of sea water that was used for emergency cooling. The half-life of these positron emitters does not extend beyond one hour. So, in just 24 hours they would be almost completely eliminated. However, these positron emitters would have greatly contributed to the ’400 times higher activity than normal found in Fukushima reactors’, and when their production stops, the activity would be reduced proportionately.
So taking all the above factors into consideration, I am tempted to conclude that except for those who are actually currently working *inside* the Fukushima Daiichi reactors, no civilian is at an increased risk for infertility, malformations in off spring or delayed cancer-induction. I will just not be able to comment upon similar risks for the radiation workers. Though, it is reported that one worker’s annual dose limit was exceeded by 10%. Let me try to put this in perspective. In India the annual dose limit for occupational radiation exposure is 20 milliSievert (mSv). This much exposure is expected to cause one cancer-related death in addition to thousand cancer-related deaths already taking place. E.g., if a town has a population of 1 million and if each year 1,000 cancer-related deaths occur with background exposure to ionizing radiation (~ 1-2 mSv) to each of the 1 million persons, then a 20 mSv exposure to each of the persons in the population would result in 1,001 cancer related deaths in a year (as against 1,000). Of course, the radiation exposure to the said worker must have been lot more acute than his/her getting it over a year, but if one goes by the above calculation, then if his/her baseline risk of dying of cancer was 20% (without radiation exposure), then now his her risk of dying because of cancer is 20.02% (with the above radiation exposure)!
There are other issues too with the idea of ‘radiation-caused’ cancer. One of the greatest issues is of attribution. How do we know that a certain instance of cancer is because of radiation exposure or because of passive cigarette smoke inhalation? Or even if it is because of ionizing radiation, it was because of exposure to background radiation or because of occupational exposure? So what scientists do here is to try to compare the incidence of certain cancers before a nuclear incident and after a nuclear incident. And if a particular kind of cancer’s incidence is found increased, then the excessive number of cases would be attributed to the said nuclear incident. However, the problem with such an approach is that it entails ‘active’ searching for cancer cases and because of which merely the detection of cancer cases would increase despite the actual incidence having remained unchanged. Despite these difficulties, even after Chernobyl disaster (which was much worse than Fukushima incident) all I could find was that perhaps, there were around 1,000 cases of cancer cases that could be attributed to the explosion. The corresponding figure according to Wikiepdia for Three Mile Island is ZERO! Number of cancer-related deaths attributed to Chernobyl disaster (according to Wikipedia) are 10 (ten). So I was flabbergasted when a journalist called Praful Bidwai in an interview on Times NOW said that Chernobyl disaster had resulted in 35,000 cancer related deaths. This figure is seriously unheard of (by me, at least). It is unfortunate that he was not questioned by the host as to what the source of his information was.
Though, not all is hunky dory with Fukushima in particular and nuclear energy in general. The greatest problem is that the immediate area (perhaps of few kilometers radius) would remain uninhabitable for next few decades because of increased background radiation. And this is a significant loss because land is a valuable resource.
Another serious issue with production of energy in nuclear power plants is of waste disposal. However, a Wikipedia article (click) had given me this startling piece of information:
In countries with nuclear power, radioactive wastes comprise less than 1% of total industrial toxic wastes, much of which remains hazardous indefinitely. Overall, nuclear power produces far less waste material by volume than fossil-fuel based power plants. Coal-burning plants are particularly noted for producing large amounts of toxic and mildly radioactive ash due to concentrating naturally occurring metals and mildly radioactive material from the coal. A recent report from Oak Ridge National Laboratory concludes that coal power actually results in more radioactivity being released into the environment than nuclear power operation, and that the population effective dose equivalent from radiation from coal plants is 100 times as much as from ideal operation of nuclear plants. Indeed, coal ash is much less radioactive than nuclear waste, but ash is released directly into the environment, whereas nuclear plants use shielding to protect the environment from the irradiated reactor vessel, fuel rods, and any radioactive waste on site.
Given the number of variables involved, of course, what would be the role of nuclear energy in future is a very complex subject, but at least I would very much like journalists/activists/environmentalists to stop using rhetoric, the media to not abuse information they become privy to, and people to try to build *informed* opinion.
What I very strongly want people to stop assuming is that “just about any kind of radioactive exposure will kill me/cause me cancer/will render me sterile/will cause malformations in my children”.
PS: I have deliberately not provided too many links, nor gone too much into technical details. But I would be glad to answer any queries by readers regarding radioactivity that I would be capable of answering.
PPS: Thanks to @keshda – a fellow tweeter for the encouragement he provided for me to blog on this topic.
What follows is derived and modified from my comments at various blog posts (written by me as well as by others). As those comments were in different contexts and not in continuity, some of the points have got repeated.
I do not understand why should I feel proud of something which was developed without my own individual involvement much before I was even born? Can we Indians feel proud of Australia winning the Cricket World Cup? Yes, it sounds ridiculous for simple reason that Australians live in a different continent, but they are our contemporaries and thus belong to the *same* generation. Likewise, I find it equally ridiculous to feel proud of things done and traditions developed by a different generation in a different time, and still worse, blindly follow them. Everyone forgets one simple thing – none of the prior generations have actually tried to preserve their traditions, at least, not successfully so. Otherwise, how did we turn from stone wielding cavemen into spacesuit clad astronauts?
Every generation makes modifications in their daily practices conducive to their survival and comfort. When we try to pass those practices on dogmatically to the next generation, they outlive their practical utility. Saree and dhoti, if you look at carefully, are reminiscent of times when needles where not used in India! Blouse was a later addition only when the art of stitching with needles was brought to India by Muslim rulers. [The assertion in last sentence, very likely is incorrect, as I discovered after some queries over twitter. I was under this false impression because one of my school teachers had told me the same and I had believed her as it did not sound an extraordinary claim. So currently I tend to think that the art of stitching was already practiced in India even before the Muslim invasions. But the basic point that influences 'external' to a civilization could also have perceptibly 'positive' impact, I believe, still stands].
But, the issue I am trying to get at is much broader. Why by default, someone’s unquestioningly imbibing old practices is looked at as a *virtue*? How is it (unquestioningly imbibing old practices) virtuous, e.g., like being helpful, courteous, honest, morally upright?
I am not implying that we should discard certain practices only because they would be legacies of older generations, but nor should we hold onto them for precisely the same reason. Most important thing is to use our discretion. Most of the etiquette (of mind you, ALL the cultures ALL OVER the globe) are based in better social interactions as an end, so if we find such etiquette and basic manners like courtesy, helpfulness, mutual respect tasteful and conducive to our society, we must certainly retain them in our daily conduct. Just that our judgement of certain practices should not be preloaded with obligation to preserve them.
You are right about pointing out how some of the traditions might die out if people do not take pride in them. But, I would like to point out a few prejudices we hold in that regard.
First, we take it a default position that ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ need to be preserved. And that something grossly unfortunate will happen if they are somehow “lost”. Is there any basis to have that as our default position? Eventually, those elements of our culture persist that are conducive to our better survival. And where does one draw line as to what is our tradition and culture? In most of the colleges, we wear pajama-kurta and Saree on traditional days. But honestly, those kind of sarees and pajama-kurta had hardly been in vogue ever in the past! Culture was: (1) what our ancestors used to wear during British rule, (2) during Mughal rule, (3) Gupta dynasty’s rule, (4) during Harappan civillization or (5) during prehistoric ages when presumably, our ancestors used to roam about wearing hides of other animals?
So the problem with this position (of obligatorily preserving one’s culture) is what is ‘culture’ itself is not well defined. Today, we consider movies like Mughal-E-Aazam to be masterpieces, but believe me, in those times, there must have been sizeable majority who must have felt that that movie was crass, and that it encouraged youngsters to go against their parents’ wishes!
Also, I do not feel, any of the generations have tried hard enough to preserve their culture, otherwise cultures would not have evolved so much. But the greater problem with what you suggest (the concern that our traditional practices would die out if we do not take pride in them) is that it seems to bring an element of obligation on individuals to carry on their culture. You, by your confession, like a lot of (movies and music) what we could call ‘Western’. Do you watch those movies and listen to that music out of sense of duty? No, you do so because you *LIKE* it. My (despite not ‘trying’ to preserve my culture) favorite music is old Hindi songs – as old as of 1950′s and 60′s. Mughal-E-Aazam would be an example, and so would be songs from movies like Baiju Bawra. But on the other hand, I also like music of The Prodigy and Orbital (both are electronic rock/techno bands) as much passionately. I had very much liked Premchand’s stories and Harivanshray Bachchan’s Hindi poems, and would certainly read them later in life when I find time. I know of a brother-sister duo, who had been forced by their dad to learn Hindustani classical music, but none of them actually remotely likes it! The only thing I am trying to suggest is culture evolves, and elements of it also survive if they find favor among people, and not because people would take pride in them. I will give another example. I very much like the title song of ‘Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram’, but cannot bring myself to like ‘Jai-jai Shiv Shankar’ the same way. But both kind of songs will find followers well into next 50 years at least. And yes, I have absolutely not learned any kind of music.
You will find many people who would feel offended to hear someone criticize Indian classical music, but actually would have themselves never liked it much! Does that make sense? That is the irrationality I am trying to point out.
The problem is not so much with believing oneself to be best. The problem is with believing that we are as good as our community is, and that is unfortunate because one never gets to CHOOSE one’s community! Had you been born in Sweden, would you have ever said that India is the ‘best’ country?
What is so virtuous about trying to preserve one’s culture? How does it in any way contribute to our becoming a good human being? A person wearing dhoti and khadi clothes can commit a cold blooded murder, whereas a guy wearing low waist jeans and black T-shirt with logo of some rock band printed on it may risk his life to save a stranger. Also, there is needless paranoia that if one does not try to preserve one’s culture, it will get destroyed. Cultural practices came in vogue because they suited the generations that inducted them into their daily lives because of limited availability of resources/technology, etc. – best example being clothes. Sarees were worn in the past not because wearing them made anyone any more pious, but because that was the only technology available. No one knew how to make jeans 200 years back.
Also, those aspects of cultural heritage that suit the contemporary generation are bound to be retained. There are countless youngsters that listen to old Hindi music because they appreciate and like it. Same holds true for poetry of Harivanshray Bachchan and stories of Premchand. But what is found crass would be rejected by the contemporary and future generations alike. So, merely forcing down our culture on the subsequent generations is not going to make them any more receptive to it. What deserves merit will definitely find favor with a niche within any generation depending upon their taste and ability to appreciate it.
One more issue – who defines what is our culture? Outside of northern India, wearing salwar-kameez would be taken as ‘loose character’ in villages.
And the most important point – none of the generations across any of the civillizations have actually tried to ‘preserve’ their culture, otherwise how has, for instance, Indian culture evolved so much that while studying history we have to divide it into ‘Harappan civillization’, ‘Ancient’, ‘Medieval’ and ‘Modern’ India? And yet, we say Indian culture is ‘alive’ and has not got destroyed? This only proves that even the prior generations were sensible enough to ‘change’ with times. We have become culturally more refined with time rather than more savage. And the current trend should not frighten us. It is nothing different than how humans have behaved in the past. So, at least parents must stop forcing their kids to ‘preserve’ culture and tradition.
Just a small side-note from personal experience: My paternal grandfather used to be disapproving of my mother wearing salwar-kameez, whereas, my sister hardly ever wears salwar-kameez and instead wears ‘tops’ and jeans, and my mother has no objections to it. But I am also sure, that there would be a certain kind of dressing that my mother would be disapproving of (say, short skirts, half pants, excessively cleavage-revealing clothes or something that would be too transparent [see-through]). Also in most of India, a girl wearing a salwar-kameez would be looked at as more susheel (well-behaved) than one wearing what my sister usually wears. What this proves is salwar-kameez has now almost become a ‘benchmark’ of sorts for one’s ‘rootedness’ to the India culture in even those parts of the country where it was not accepted just one or two generations back.
And unlike what most traditionalists might be tempted to suggest that it is simply ‘foreign’/'western’ influences that ‘contaminate’ the Indian culture, salwar-kameez which is largely a North Indian phenomenon was also seen as a threat to the culture (by my grandfather). Which means my grandfather was not afraid of something ‘foreign’, but he was afraid of any kind of change. In other words, he favored stagnation, which may or may not be harmful depending on the context, but in no way, would I accept it as something ‘desirable’ or ‘ideal’.